Laura Schmitt OlabisiWritten by Andy McGlashen, Environmental Science and Policy Program

She's an Ivy League graduate and a Ph.D., but Laura Schmitt Olabisi is no elitist.

Of course we need science to work on the problems associated with global climate change, she said, "but farmers have an equally important kind of knowledge."

The new assistant professor, jointly appointed by ESPP and the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, said the best work on climate change uses both of those kinds of knowledge, combining quantitative research with public engagement.

"I think the most cutting edge institutes are going in that direction, including Michigan State," she said. "That's the kind of work that I'm most excited about."

It's also the kind of work she's been doing since early 2007 as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota.

Schmitt Olabisi has been working with a project called Minnesota 2050, which combines public input with quantitative studies on issues like energy use, home construction and food production. By creating multiple scenarios of what the state's midcentury environment might look like, the group hopes to form strategies to make communities more resilient and adaptable in the face of environmental change.

"The idea is to help these communities set their priorities now, so they can get on the right track," she said. "It's about scientists serving the community and working on issues that matter to them."

After earning a bachelor's degree in environmental science from Brown University, she got her Ph.D. in systems ecology from the State University of New York in Syracuse.

"At some point in college I had the epiphany that the largest problems facing humanity at the turn of the millennium are environmental problems," she said.

Environmental awareness must run in the family; her sister is a graduate student in MSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

And when Schmitt Olabisi starts work at MSU in January, it won't be just a family reunion of sorts, but also a homecoming; she grew up in another university town in Michigan that shall go unnamed here.

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